Welcome

A welcoming attitude opens the door to community the way a welcome mat invites folks into a home. I put my welcome mat inside the house because I don’t want those who visit to think they have to clean up before they can come in.

I’ve been in homes that made me want to take off my shoes, and I’ve been in homes where they actually asked me to remove my shoes before coming in. That puts a damper on the welcome and sends the clear message that I need to watch what I do and where I do it. That isn’t the message I want to relay to my friends, family, and guests. I want them to feel welcome to come in as they are and not worry about the state of their shoes or their hearts.

I feel the most welcome in the homes that welcome me as I am and don’t expect me to leave all my dirt on the mat before coming in. I told my Sunday School class yesterday that I felt welcome and at home in a way my heart has been craving. They laughed out loud when I told them about telling the pastor I couldn’t help with communion last week because I wasn’t dressed properly. He had the same reaction, so I laughed and helped.

I’ve always felt I had to live up to the expectations of others, and that hasn’t worked out well for me or them. A lot of my feeling unwelcome came from a deep-seated need to please. I am slowly changing in that regard, and that has a lot to do with my new sense of belonging. God placed a beautiful community directly across the street from my new home and prepared my heart for it, but I had to take the first step.

Doormats come in thousands of styles from simple to extravagant, and they say all manner of things, but I prefer the ones that simply say “Welcome” and don’t make me feel guilty for leaving a little dirt on them.

Welcome is a two way street that is more about being comfortable with myself than the way others invite me to come in. When I am who God created me to be and allow others to be the same, I can enter any home with a comfortable heart even when I am asked to take off my shoes 😉

 

Family

Familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also give birth to the level of affection we are created to experience. The difference is whether I let fear or love lead the way. 1 John 4:18 says it best.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Families fall apart when fear forces them to fuse together. They connect beautifully when love allows them to be who they are. God created us to connect, and our hearts cannot survive without those connections. The most valuable thing the homeless have lost is not their addresses; it is their family connections.

The family systems theory concerning differentiation of self makes a great deal of sense, and I believe God is the ultimate example of how it works. He makes it clear that He is the Great I AM. That isn’t as much about being all powerful as it is about being exactly Who He Is. I believe He wants each of us to be the amazing individual He created us to be, so we can  connect and live in community as He desires.

The Bowen Center has this to say about the negative effects of unhealthy interdependence:

“The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

You can read more at https://www.thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/differentiation-of-self/

Family brings a sense of belonging, and Christ made it very clear that His family is open to all. That doesn’t mean He sanctions abusive behavior. Abuse is the worst form of fusion, and it breaks God’s heart to see His children hurting. Parents and children alike understand the pain of such breaking. Society suffers alongside broken families. God has the power to make us love any way or any one He wants, but He knows better than to force love upon His children.

Family isn’t an easy word to define; but like love, I know it when I feel it. God has helped me see myself as He sees me, and I am so very thankful for a birth family who loves me just as I am. I can’t imagine life with my three sweet sisters and their families, my son and his wife, or my three adorable little grand daughters; but I also thank God for brothers and sisters who are related beautifully by the common thread of love. I am thankful for connections that surround me like a warm, cozy blanket and melt my heart into a sweet, still pool of peace.

Reaching out isn’t easy; it is much simpler to fuse into small groups who share a common love. It is easier still to form groups with a common hatred, and we all know examples of how that destroys families, churches, communities, and countries. It is easiest to simply stay out of sight and not connect at all. That lets you off the hook when it comes to grieving over the loss of a loved one, but it also leaves you with a deep sense of longing that is the worst pain of all.

God loved us enough to send His only Son. I haven’t reached that level of love and doubt I will understand it until I am with Him, but I have learned that God will provide connections that are good for my heart when I relax into faith and trust Him to know what is best for my heart.

Jesus was born into a beautiful family, but I’m sure His earthly family was filled with individuals who were far from perfect. This morning, I was imagining what a large family gathering might look like when He was a young boy. I bet He had a crazy aunt or uncle who made Him smile, and I’m sure there were squabbles and even a feud or two. That didn’t stop Him from loving them, and it doesn’t stop Him from loving us. I also know with all my heart, that He must have looked around when all were gathered in one accord, smiled, and said to Himself, “This reminds me of Home.”

Homeless

Over 500,000 people spend the night in shelters, cars, or on the street. A fourth of them are children. Numbers have decreased in some areas since 2015, but they are still far too high. There are many reasons for homelessness, but I tend to latch onto the ones that make me feel less guilty about the desperation they face. They are drug addicts; they are alcoholics; they brought it on themselves; they are lazy. All these are excuses help me sleep soundly in my nice, warm bed at night.

The truth is much deeper and more disturbing. The homeless are lost in a world that barely notices them. Most suffer from mental illness, have serious addictions, financial losses, or have a heart or body that is broken beyond their ability to heal. They are caught in vicious cycles that never seem to end. Most Americans are only three months away from being on the streets themselves, and a job loss or catastrophic illness shortens that time dramatically.

During this special time of the year, our attention is turned toward a young couple who found themselves searching for a place to sleep. Away from home and expecting a new baby any day, they desperately needed a place to rest after their long journey. The only place available was a cave where lambs were birthed. Appropriate in that Christ was, is, and will always be, the Lamb of God.

Mary and Joseph were not homeless, but they did experience the angst of being away from home and not able to find a place to sleep for the night. Christ was born out in the open where animals were sleeping, yet His humble beginning marked a turning point for this planet. When I see those forced to sleep out in the open with open arms and an open heart, God creates a new turning point in my own heart that puts both me and the planet a little closer in line with His heart. That vicious cycle begins to look more like the loving circle His heart desires.

Purity

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (NLT)

When King David prayed this prayer in Psalm 51:10, he was asking God to help him get back on the right path. I love his supplication because it comes from a repentant heart. To me, that is the highest level of purity we humans can achieve. King David was not a perfect or a pure man, but he was a man after God’s own heart who wanted to be near his dear Lord.

Christ was pure in every sense of the word, the ultimate unblemished Lamb suitable for the proper sacrifice to God, the Father. We can stumble along the path Christ lays before us, but we will not achieve true purity until we are with Him in heaven.

Until then, God asks us to have the courage to walk along the path His Son walked. I like to think it is like taking the first step on a snow covered road. I hate to be the first to trod on the purity of that path, but I remember what is underneath the white covering and step out.

Like a beautiful snow covered path, Christ’s sacrifice covers the ugliness of our hearts with a purity only He can achieve. Unlike the snow, Christ’s covering is permanent. He wants us to trust Him and walk bravely in the same places we have always lived but with a light heart knowing our paths are covered with His Holy Spirit’s presence.

There’s nothing more fun that being the first one out on a snowy morning and frolicking with abandon in newly fallen snow. The animals usually beat us to the path, but sometimes, we get to experience the world in the light of the sweet purity of a winter wonderland. If we tune our hearts to God’s sweet presence each morning, we can get an even greater sense of wonder without the cold 🙂

Expectation

Expectation takes its lead from my heart. If I’m expecting gloom an doom, that’s exactly what I get. If I’m expecting to get what I deserve, that’s what I get. I spent most of my life thinking I deserved less than God had in mind, and that’s exactly what I got. I love this image of the girls right after they helped put up the Christmas tree because they are excitedly expecting the wonderful things to come. My heart has grown to expect the same.

Advent should be a season of great wonder and excitement. God’s Son came down to be with us, and He’s coming again!! If Christians had half the excitement about that good news as these little girls have about the prospect of Santa Claus coming, the world would be a very different place.

Waiting is never easy, and that is particularly true for little ones at this time of year; but when we wait in the sweet anticipation of knowing God loved us enough to send His only Son and loves us enough to send Him again, we become like children who believe with all their hearts that something amazing is coming! That makes us smile and squeal the way these two little ones did when the Christmas tree was finally up.

I pray my heart will always be like a child waiting for something beyond my comprehension but real enough to make me squeal.

Prepare

I like to be prepared, but I’m learning that much of my preparation has more to do with fear than organization. The unknown can be daunting, so I have always been one to plan ahead. Yesterday, as I was teaching Sunday School, someone asked a question about really knowing we are where we are supposed to be. He was thinking about his grandson who had that beautiful feeling on his mission trip, but I immediately thought about a beautiful moment after the Christmas parade when I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

His question was about hearing and responding to God’s call in way that left no doubt I was doing exactly what He wanted me to do. Some might argue that my moment didn’t fit the definition of a calling, but this gentleman thanked me after class. He’s a wise man and understood completely.

The moment caught me off guard, and I believe that is exactly what God’s moments do. My son and his family were going to park at my home and use my little apartment as a place to take a break during the Christmas parade festivities. I was going to be busy all day, so I didn’t expect to run into them. God had other plans.

There’s nothing I like more than preparing a meal for my son and his family. Had I known they were going to be there for dinner, I would have prepared something special and cleaned the apartment. That’s what prepare means to me, so I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. My frig was empty, and my house was a mess; but I told my son that I did have a lot of food in the freezer.

He sprang into action while I played with baby Kalina. I told everyone what was available, and the girls started making requests. We had pizza, chili, mac and cheese, tortellini, and the delicious cookies and candies I had purchased at my church’s Cookie Walk for dessert. As I held my precious new grand daughter and watched Lillyann and Mylah, I realized the best plans are the ones I don’t make. God smiled, and said, “Exactly!”

The best way to prepare my heart for what God has in mind is to leave the planning to Him and be amazed by the moments He places in my path. I felt the call to serious prayer six years ago and was confused by it. I told a dear friend, who is also wonderful minister, that prayer didn’t seem like much of a call. He smiled and said, “Well, it’s what Jesus does, so isn’t that enough?”

I was humbled in a way I should have been when I first received the call. I smiled and said, “Yes, it’s more than enough.” I learned then, and again on Saturday, not to expect God’s call to fit into my plans. The time of sweet, messy fellowship was better than an intricately planned dinner party, and the times I spend praying for and with those I love and those I have only just met bless me in ways I cannot describe when I let God’s Holy Spirit do the planning and simply prepare my heart to be amazed.

 

Love

No one can snatch me from God’s hand, but I am free to hop out at any time. He will let me wander for as long as it takes for me to create my own kingdoms, make my own mountains, and plan my own projects. He waits because Love is patient.

God doesn’t close his hand around me because love cannot be forced with a fist. He knows only an open palm works when it comes to love. He is the ultimate example self-differentiation and waits for His children to find their way back to Him. Love requires openness and freedom; otherwise, it will wither and die. God knows that better than anyone, so He never forces or coerces. He refuses to fuse. I must do the same if I am to love Him and others as He desires.

When my kingdoms crash, my mountains topple, and my projects fail, I find comfort in God’s loving hand. He doesn’t gloat or fuss or say, “I told you so. I knew you’d be back!” He simply loves. His love never changes or moves and is best described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” NASB